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Space Science

Bezos Discloses Failure of Blue Origin Rocket Test Flight 99

Posted by timothy
from the discovering-ways-not-to-make-lightbulbs dept.
astroengine writes "An experimental suborbital space vehicle developed by Blue Origin, a space startup founded by Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos, was lost during a test flight last week. During the secretive flight, the vehicle reached an altitude of 45,000 feet and attained a velocity of Mach 1.2. Soon after, things went horribly wrong. 'A flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered our range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle,' said an upbeat Bezos in Friday's statement."
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Bezos Discloses Failure of Blue Origin Rocket Test Flight

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  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday September 02, 2011 @06:42PM (#37292680) Homepage

    Things go boom. Pretty much no one in the business of putting up boosters has managed to do so without create a fair amount of debris and fuss.

    Bezos seems to appreciate this. It's a disappointment, for sure but it's just that.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday September 02, 2011 @06:45PM (#37292706) Homepage

      Oh, and 45000 feet at Mach 1.2 is the beginning of the real stress zone [wikipedia.org] for the frame. Not too surprising it flopped over there. Of course, there are lots of ways a booster can screw up.

      • Oh, and 45000 feet at Mach 1.2 is the beginning of the real stress zone [wikipedia.org] for the frame. Not too surprising it flopped over there.

        Anytime you hit or exceed transonic speeds you're getting into all new worlds of potential hurt. (Ask anyone who worked with us on Prospector 8A: http://www.csulb.edu/colleges/coe/mae/views/projects/rocket/background/ [csulb.edu] :) )

        • Premature ejaculation metaphor:
          "I'm sorry, Honey! Flight instability triggered range safety systems to terminate thrust on the vehicle!"

          • by RockDoctor (15477)

            Premature ejaculation metaphor:
            "I'm sorry, Honey! Flight instability [...]

            Why is there any reason to apologise for premature ejaculation? It's a pretty high compliment about how hot she (or he? I don't know your choices) makes you, and as long as you didn't make stains on the blue dress, or are really short of time, there's very little to prevent you from now indulging in a good bout of intercourse.

            Unless you're in one of those stupid religious sects that requires sex to only be used for procreation.

            • I didn't know it actually happened. I always assumed it was something that existed only for making feeble jokes...

              • by RockDoctor (15477)
                Jokes that some people find nervously funny because they know it happens to them, and others find nervously funny because they're afraid it'll happen to them?

                And the other half of the population just find the whole subject side-splittingly hilarious.

                • I guess so....

                  I never made such a joke before now, when the quote seemed so complex a way to describe a failure - like an embarrassed apology.

                  Of course, to analyse a joke is to kill it.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      Indeed. And the altitude and speed it achieved before it pranged were pretty cool. I wouldn't even call it a disappointment. It's a learning opportunity.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I wouldn't even call it a disappointment. It's a learning opportunity.

        If private corporations were developing new technology on the edge of the unknown then I would agree. Unfortunately this is not new tech, this science, technology, and research has been around and in use for decades. Delays and failures such as this are a serious blow to the idea that we are ready for space flight based on the for profit model.

        We may see better success with incumbent manufacturers who worked with NASA on past scientific a

        • by roc97007 (608802) on Friday September 02, 2011 @08:54PM (#37293462) Journal

          > If private corporations were developing new technology on the edge of the unknown then I would agree. Unfortunately this is not new tech, this science, technology, and research has been around and in use for decades. Delays and failures such as this are a serious blow to the idea that we are ready for space flight based on the for profit model.

          Like many things, that's both true and untrue. You're right, the individual pieces are not new tech, and the purpose is also not new tech. If all it took is bolting the right parts together, then, well, anyone could do it, and we'd all have spaceships. The thing is, integrating a machine of that size and designed to work under those conditions is non-trivial even though it *has* been done before. If nothing else, it hasn't been done by this particular team, who has to learn all kinds of things like procurement, QA, integration and how to launch the thing. As we've learned from every space mission back to the 1960's, one error, one bad decision, anywhere in the process of component parts to launch, can result in a prang. Even when NASA does it. Most especially if a company does it who hasn't done it before. Creating and successfully launching a functional spaceship is a process. A really complicated process that's difficult to learn.

          So I contend that if they got up to 45K feet and a mach-and-a-half on their first try, that's pretty damned good for a newcomer.

        • by putaro (235078)

          I don't think that's fair at all. This is a VTOL rocket that takes off and lands all in one piece. I don't know if they'll be able to get it to being a Single Stage To Orbit (SSTO) but they're a lot farther along than NASA ever got at that game. The whole vehicle is reusable (like an airplane).

          The closest thing to this was the DC-X. DARPA funded it and they got it to the point where it flew for less than 3 minutes and up to 3000 meters (about 10,000 feet). It did not go supersonic.

          NASA took over the pr

          • by AJWM (19027)

            Mod parent up, he's exactly right.

            The Blue Origin design, while one that's been advocated since as long ago as Phil Bono's concepts in the mid 1960s, has never been test-flown at significant speeds and altitudes. Bezos' company really is breaking new ground here. (The design is more like General Dynamics' proposal for the SSX prototype than McDonnell-Douglas's which became DC-X.)

        • by Teancum (67324)

          I wouldn't even call it a disappointment. It's a learning opportunity.

          If private corporations were developing new technology on the edge of the unknown then I would agree. Unfortunately this is not new tech, this science, technology, and research has been around and in use for decades. Delays and failures such as this are a serious blow to the idea that we are ready for space flight based on the for profit model.

          Private corporations, ad hoc groups, and even social clubs (such as rocketry groups) can and are developing new technology on the edge of the unknown quite frequently. They simply aren't getting into the news either because they are deliberately trying to stay low-key precisely because of critics like this AC or because not all of those experiments really work out.

          I hate to break the news, but "big corporations" rarely do anything at all to develop new technologies in any industry. It goes against their c

        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          Delays and failures such as this are a serious blow to the idea that we are ready for space flight based on the for profit model.

          So how many failures has NASA had over the years? I daresay it's averaged at least one a year despite all of their knowledge. As others have said you're often pushing the limits of material science in rocketry and a small anomaly can become a catastrophic failure in a matter of seconds or less.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      Things go boom.

      Right, this is no big deal.

      I mean, it's not like anyone else has ever put any suborbital spacecraft up before or anything.

      Oh wait...

      You know, the more I think about it, I'm not sure it's really in our interest to have private industry have their own space programs. They haven't really been such great stewards of resources here on Earth and I'm not sure it's so great to have them export their corporate agendas to space. There are a lot of ways it can turn out really badly.

      • Things go boom.

        Right, this is no big deal.

        I mean, it's not like anyone else has ever put any suborbital spacecraft up before or anything.

        Oh wait...

        Yeah this Bezos guy must be a real dummy. I mean, his first test rocket exploded.

        Governments have been doing this for years with expensive, thoroughly tested equipment.

        Could you imagine if one of their rockets exploded just last week? Oh... err... wait...

      • by Teancum (67324)

        Yeah, I'd rather so much to have a government running stuff that can land on your house where some government bureaucrat say "so sue me.... oh that's right, you can't!"

        There is a concept called government immunity which pretty much allows the government to do whatever it wants to whomever it wants. While some may claim otherwise, private corporations and individuals don't have that option. If you are worried about a private company being a "proper steward" or even worried about them taking out your house

        • "Yeah, I'd rather so much to have a government running stuff that can land on your house where some government bureaucrat say "so sue me.... oh that's right, you can't!"

          which is exactly why privatized space ventures are doomed, this is why aircraft systems cost so much, product liability insurance.... I will maintain that until a private company can either:

          1. Make so much money that they can finance their own product liability insurance OR
          2. Have complete protection from the litigation of landing a rocke

          • by Teancum (67324)

            Your story doesn't explain why it would be impossible for a company to make a profit from sending rockets into space, and in fact seems to assert that it is impossible to earn a profit from aviation.... a fact that seem to smack as a complete fabrication of fact. There are thousands of companies who make money either by directly selling aviation services, aircraft, or have a major portion of their business rely upon an air transportation network.

            Yes, getting equipment certified by the FAA is a real PITA an

            • I really wonder what would happen - I guess I just don't see how a private company is ever going to make money on this, space tourism will make a little off of a select rich few until the day that a major accident happens and people die - then the government will crack down on it. I don't think you can legally build an aircraft past a certain size without the government (FAA) getting involved - I'll bet if I built a jet and went flying someone WOULD shoot me down as you suggest - I grew up on the space coa

              • by Teancum (67324)

                I really wonder what would happen - I guess I just don't see how a private company is ever going to make money on this, space tourism will make a little off of a select rich few until the day that a major accident happens and people die - then the government will crack down on it.

                The question is how would the government crack down on space tourism? Literally banning the ability for individuals to go into space on their own dime? How would they stop it, at least from somebody determined to go up? If not America, there are other countries (notably Denmark and Romania at the moment) who want to get into this game with several other countries willing to get involved too. Bahrain and Qatar are two other countries seriously thinking of getting set up as space ports as well. Is there

          • by Moofie (22272)

            You know that satellite launch vehicles are built and operated by private companies today, right?
            You know you can buy satellite launch insurance pretty much off-the-shelf at companies like Lloyd's of London, right?

            Don't let those notions get in the way of your philosophy or anything.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          I suppose the argument here is that spaceflight is just a bad idea that shouldn't have ever been tried.

          Spaceflight is a great idea. But private corporations shouldn't be the ones doing it.

          Because in the end, we're going to be the ones paying for it either way. If a private corporations creates some disaster, they declare bankruptcy and form under a different name and when someone goes after them they say "but that company doesn't exist any more!" We've seen it with so many polluting companies in the nort

          • by Teancum (67324)

            I would love to see you point to a single private commercial spaceflight company who has declared bankruptcy and then proceeded to reorganize itself with the same investors to go out and do the same thing. That may have happened with other companies, but I have never, I repeat never have seen it happen with spaceflight.

            Your absolutes here just astound me to no end.

            I also don't think you understand capitalism at all, or for that matter economic theory either. Please convince me otherwise.

            I will admit that

            • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

              I would love to see you point to a single private commercial spaceflight company who has declared bankruptcy and then proceeded to reorganize itself with the same investors to go out and do the same thing.

              Why don't you add "...whose name begins with the letter "L""?

              Friend, avoiding responsibility for liability is one of, if not the primary reason for the existence of corporations. To believe for some reason that corporations involved in the development of space will somehow act more nobly is too much a st

              • by Teancum (67324)

                And in case you haven't read the U.S. Constitution, the government is us.

                And in case you haven't read the U.S. Constitution, developing space or even building transportation systems isn't even an enumerated power delegated to the United States Congress, essentially making all of those contracts with "big corporations" unconstitutional. Certainly building mines or doing anything in space other than simply gazing at it is unconstitutional.... other than perhaps setting up new American states in space on additional territory claimed by America.

                Yeah, I've read the U.S. Constitution

                • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

                  And in case you haven't read the U.S. Constitution, developing space or even building transportation systems isn't even an enumerated power delegated to the United States Congress, essentially making all of those contracts with "big corporations" unconstitutional.

                  So, by your thinking, it was unconstitutional for the US to build the Hoover Dam, and the TVA. To fund the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Louisiana Purchase. The purchase of Alaska. The Interstate Highway System. All unconstitutional by you

                  • by Teancum (67324)

                    You are putting words into my mouth, but I will note that the U.S. Constitution enumerates only a few very specific things over which the U.S. Congress has any authority over which it may act. Either that document has any meaning at all or it is a worthless scrap of paper which needs to be discarded with yesterday's trash. Most of that authority is spelled out in Article I, Section 8 although a few other things are found elsewhere in that document.

                    As to if members of Congress have exceeded that authority,

      • by AJWM (19027)

        I'm not sure it's really in our interest to have private industry

        If you'd just left it that, you would have conveyed your real meaning much better. Good writing is all about conciseness, however stupid the message.

  • I find this article especially interesting, as I did a job shadow at Blue Origin last year as a part of my requirement to graduate High School. One of the Employees showed me around the test facilities and showed me the various systems in place to try to prevent this kind of failure from happening. It's unfortunate that this happened, but as the employee told me, most of this is chump change for Jeff Bezos, and Blue Origin is in all reality a pet-project of his. Cool fact though, the Blue Origin Building in
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Cool fact though, the Blue Origin Building in Kent, WA is home to an original Bell X-1 as well as the original model of the Starship Enterprise that was used in the episode where the Enterprise gets destroyed, I believe.

      Which Enterprise?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The one from the Star Trek, not the aircraft carrier.

        • by arcsimm (1084173)
          That doesn't thin out the field much.
          • by Teancum (67324)

            Since the original USS Enterprise model NCC-1701 (no bloody A, B, C, or D) is currently in the Smithsonian, I highly doubt that Jeff Bezos got access to that model. While there were several models created for the subsequent starships, I'd have to guess either the -A or the -D models, both of which were blown up at various times in more than one episode and movie. Then again, I think every Starship Enterprise eventually met a gruesome end of some sort where it blew up or was whacked real good in a way that

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Friday September 02, 2011 @06:48PM (#37292738)
    One click detonation by the range officer.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The flight was not "secretive", the flight was "secret". The people involved were being secretive in order to keep it secret.

    secretive
    adjective
    having or showing a disposition to secrecy;

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Friday September 02, 2011 @07:07PM (#37292852) Journal

    ...that this is the way science works. You try something, learn from the results, and then change your plans accordingly. Nothing to see here.

    • by sl3xd (111641)

      Nothing to see here.

      I have to disagree. If there's something flaming, flying, tumbling out of control, and blowing up, there is most definately something worth seeing.

    • by tgd (2822)

      ...that this is the way science works. You try something, learn from the results, and then change your plans accordingly. Nothing to see here.

      Except this isn't rocket science.

      Its rocket engineering. Engineering is about ensuring things like this don't happen. Obviously they will, but it shouldn't be dismissed like that as being part of "science". As others have said, this sort of technology isn't new, and in 2011 you're generally *not* firing something and wondering what might happen. You aren't testing the science, you're testing your engineering and your digital models and simulations.

      • by Teancum (67324)

        Engineering is trying to design something so it doesn't blow up. The science is trying to figure out why it went boom in spite of your best efforts to the contrary.

        Engineers use science to develop their products, but the quest for a better product doesn't necessarily require a perfect understanding of how everything works. Far too often engineers simply throw stuff together with a wink and a prayer and see if the thing works.

        A careful engineer does try to understand underlying principles to whatever disci

    • ...that this is the way science works. You try something, learn from the results, and then change your plans accordingly. Nothing to see here.

      dude. f=ma is the only "science" they are using here, and that has been established for a long, long time. [wikipedia.org] What Blue Origin is doing is engineering, not science.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        C'mon, don't be disingenuous. This is not throwing a rock, it's turning on a very complicated machine that has to work in very difficult conditions. A Trebuchet is F=MA. A rocket is a lot of other things besides.

        • by Teancum (67324)

          That is why Tsiolkovskii [wikipedia.org] went and developed the rocket equation [wikipedia.org], as it does require a bit more than Newton's second law of motion. Not much though and this is considered a "special case" of Newton's law.

          Most of rocketry is pretty simply. The nozzle must be made out of some exotic materials to withstand the exhaust temperatures, of which alloys of Niobium [wikipedia.org] are commonly used. If you are working with solid fuels, the trick is to get the fuel to burn evenly and in a controlled manner with the draw-back that y

  • I think it's really cool that it looks like something from a 50's science fiction comic. Not being sarcastic.
  • ...it is valuable research for the next test flight. The stuff their working on is really somewhat innovative because it hasn't been explored much by NASA, RKK or ESA. Their vehicle is intended to be entirely reusable, albeit as a suborbital craft as well but it will be an impressive marit with ideas that stem from some of the earliest space-flight ideas. Should be interesting to see when the time comes that Virgin and Blue Origin are competing for customers.

  • by joh (27088)

    the Amazon tablet will be more lucky. When I read 'A flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered our range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle,' sounds exactly what HP needed to do.

  • ...sometimes, it -does- take a rocket scientist.
  • POGO oscillation used to be a problem with rockets. Wonder if those POGO sputters from the Blue Origin picture were the problem or not? One might think that today's rockets like Blue Origin are so sophisticated that they are happy with POGO oscillation. The Wiki article is below. Would appreciate any knowledgeable insight on this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pogo_oscillation [wikipedia.org]

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